Versatility is a common quality among employees of small school districts, and it’s not unusual to see a teacher or administrator juggling multiple responsibilities.
But few in the Johnson County School District have worn as many hats over the past eight years as Luke Danforth has. Not only has he served as the district’s special services director since the 2014-15 school year, but he has also taught at Buffalo High School. Not only did he lead the Kaycee High School girls basketball team to multiple state tournaments, but he also jumped in to serve as the district’s interim superintendent during the summer of 2018.
Through it all, Danforth has displayed a passionate commitment to the students and staff of Johnson County, according to Superintendent Jim Wagner.
“Luke has certainly been helpful in every situation, and he was a valuable asset to me when I started here,” Wagner said. “He has a plethora of knowledge and experience and is gracious enough to share that with everyone. By doing that, he has made the district a better place.”
Danforth’s eighth year in the Johnson County School District will be his last as he takes a job as special services director in the Campbell County School District next fall. But Buffalo, Kaycee and Johnson County will always have a place in his heart, he said.
“We came here looking for a great district to be involved with, and we were not disappointed,” Danforth said.
Danforth was hired in the 2012-13 school year as a special education teacher at Buffalo High School, but he slowly took on other duties. During the 2013-14 school year, while still teaching at BHS, he took over leadership of the Kaycee High School girls basketball team.
“I had coached in places like Greybull and Big Piney and Powell,” Danforth said. “Everywhere I coached, I really enjoyed working with the kids. So when Coach (Laura) Pierson stepped down in Kaycee, I asked the principal of BHS if we could find some way to make it work.”
That first season, the team made it all the way to the 1A state tournament. It was a feat that the team repeated every year that Danforth coached them.
For Danforth, the highlights of coaching weren’t the games or the victories but the relationships he built with each of his athletes.
“There was one time I told my team that I had no social life while I was coaching, and they said, ‘Does that mean we’re your besties?’” Danforth said. “And they were my besties. I really got to know them and love them. The toughest part of taking the director job was that I didn’t work as much with students. So I always appreciated that time of year from the end of November to early March when I had three hours every day with students.”
Danforth became the district’s special services director in the 2014-15 school year after Kathy Camino vacated the role.
“My role has been supporting the people who really make things happen,” Danforth said. “My job is to support the work happening in the classrooms and to help teachers do the job they want to do and reach the students in the way they need to be reached. It’s been fun to support them as they’ve done their work.”
At the end of his fourth year as special services director, Danforth took on yet another responsibility as the interim superintendent of the district following the resignation of Superintendent Gerry Chase.
“That was just a great experience,” Danforth said. “I had never really imagined myself being superintendent, but it just kind of happened. That was kind of an interesting time because I was one of the only district administrators who stayed on staff during that time. So I really spent a lot of time developing our new team, with folks like Laurie Graves at Meadowlark and Brandon Farris at Clear Creek and Jodi Ibach at Buffalo High School. Over the course of three months, we put together a pretty good plan and got the district off to a great start for the school year.”
No matter the job, Danforth says he has always sought to perform his duties to the best of his abilities.
“There’s a challenge every day and always new adventures,” Danforth said. “School districts are the true human experience – they are always evolving and changing, and you have to evolve and change too.”
While he will be starting a new job in the fall, Danforth is still keeping Johnson County close. He will continue to live in Buffalo and commute to work in Gillette. His wife, Linda, will remain an employee of the Johnson County School District as a speech-language pathologist.
“I love this community, and I’m glad that I can remain a part of it,” Danforth said. “I’ll be around – just not at any school board meetings.”
Valerie Hurm, associate principal at Thunder Basin High School in Gillette, has been hired as the district’s next director of special services.